Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lyda Phillips

Lyda Phillips has released a pair of short novels for young adult readers. Like many legendary Disney movies, these books should appeal to not-so-young adults, too. Since I am of that persuasion, I was not expecting to enjoy these two nearly as much as I did, but the author's sensitive handling of the mature subject matter easily won me over.

Mr. Touchdown by Lyda Phillips
(iUniverse / 0-595-35900-0 / July 2005 / 182 pages / $13.95)

Mr. Touchdown is the fictional recreation of a common type of event that took place throughout the Deep South in the Sixties as all-white schools were integrated. A small number of exceptional black students are transferred to Forrest High in Memphis in 1965. The lead character is an athlete who has lettered in several sports at his old school, but the football coach at Forrest won't let him off the bench, even though the team is good only at losing. The story takes us through the many conflicts these kids experience in their first year at an all-white school. The actions of the revolting rednecks are realistically described and the story has a pleasant ending. I do wish, though, that the book was much longer, with a lot more detail. The story is one that needs to be told.

If you want to further explore the subject matter, I recommend you watch the movies, Hairspray and Remember the Titans. These two examples are not better than Mr. Touchdown, but they are a little different in that they do not capture the deeply rooted essence of The South. This book shows how truly hardheaded people can be, even at the expense of their beloved football team. The poignant emotions described during the football action bring Mr. Touchdown up to the level of Remember the Titans, and for me at least, this is the best recommendation I can give. Since I lived very close to the action of the civil rights movement in that time period (I even spent the summer of '68 in Memphis), I can honestly say that Ms. Phillips has captured the era perfectly.

Peace I Ask of Thee, Oh River by Lyda Phillips
(iUniverse / 0-595-36172-2 / August 2005 / 120 pages / $10.95)

Ms. Phillips takes us to a girls' summer camp in this misleading title that sounds like something a neocon soccer mom would like her daughter to read. Fortunately for us all, this summer camp is full of teenage angst and realism. The characters are more akin to the kids at Ridgemont High than those at church camp. The title is derived from a campfire song the girls sing. The action is focused on the camp counselors more than the girls, with the exception of one particular problem child upon whom the whole plot hinges. As in the movie, Little Darlings, the lead characters are busy trying to get laid while the campfire patrols are up to the usual summer shenanigans. The author has crafted an engrossing short novel about the way teenagers really feel, think and behave. You will be wishing the story went on much longer. Ignore the blah cover and the holy-moly-difficult-to-remember title and you will discover a story with the depth of Stephen King's movie, Stand By Me.

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